Today we fly back to NZ. The pace in McMurdo has reached fever pitch and we are getting out just in the nick of time. We have spent the week polishing up our end-of-season reports, putting away our gear and trying to stay out of sight. We also made it out to the new long duration balloon facility with Tina, Don’s partner. Yesterday was the big fanfare of end-of-season performance evaluations. Luci did very well and received the highest level of performance. I did well, too, though a notch below Luci’s rating. We have had some time to spend with my brother, Jesse. He is scheduled to depart on the 7th. Today he had an interview for a job on Alaska’s North Slope. Best of luck to him.
There has been quite a bit of confusion about the ship offload this season, as is becoming the habit in the Program. This season the NSF leased the Russian Icebreaker Krasin for icebreaking operations. This is the same vessel that came down to assist the USCG Polar Star last season. There was some strange politics concerning the payment for the use of the Polar Star. As far as I can understand, the DOD told the NSF that they would have to absorb the cost of icebreaking from their own budget this season (close to $50,000 a day). They decided to go offshore and lease the cheaper and more efficient Krasin from the shipping company FESCO. About halfway into their contract, the ship broke a prop. The Polar Star was quickly mustered and left its home port of Seattle for the Antarctic assuming the worst (it is not scheduled to arrive until sometime near the end of March, I think). Divers were flown down to assess damage to the Krasin. They declared the problem non-field rectifiable. They decided to continue breaking ice at partial capacity.
In the meantime, a former icebreaker-turned-cruise ship was in the area and spent some time breaking ice while its tourist cargo came ashore and wandered around McMurdo in their yellow parkas with that look of awe and confusion that the first-timer to McMurdo is often seen wearing. At the same time the NSF research vessel NBP came into port to unload passengers and cargo while the tanker Gianella and cargo vessel America Tern sat at the ice-edge awaiting their turn to steam down the 100mile channel to the ice-pier. There was doubt about which Vessel would be the first to dock after the NBP left the channel. In the end it was the re-supply vessel that came in first yesterday morning. Upon docking they bumped the pier unusually hard knocking the bridge from land to the pier out of whack. Offload had to be postponed until they could get it re-situated to allow trucks alongside the ship.
Last night “Offload” began in full. Big trucks, billowing dust, and odd hours are the rule during this part of the season. Offload usually lasts a week or less. All the bars close and half the population shift to a schedule that allows 24hr attention to the evolution of the cargo. Navy Cargo Handling Personnel (Navchaps) also come into town swelling the population another 100 head.
Needless to say, we are quite content to be leaving when we are. This is one of the highest-stress times of year in the whole program. In a matter of hours we’ll be in Christchurch, New Zealand where the grass is green, it rains, and there is that long-forgotten phenomenon where the sun disappears below the horizon and everything goes dark. What is it called again? It looks like we are going to be getting a sailboat (Nolex 25) in the Marlborough Sounds area in the North of the South Island for a week or so. What we will do with the rest of the month we have in NZ is anyone guess. We’ll try to keep you updated.